Types of Loss

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Types of Loss

What Other Types of Loss Can You Experience After the Death of a Loved One?

The death of a loved one is unarguably life’s most stressful event and is capable of devastating those it leaves behind. 

When we lose someone close to our heart, it’s literally the same pain receptors in the brain as losing a limb.

Although all losses are significant and we’re hesitant to categorise and are careful not to compare, the death of a spouse is one of life’s most painful losses and requires the biggest life adjustments. 

You’re accustomed to someone’s continuous presence in your life and then suddenly they’re gone.

This guide article will provide you with useful information to help you identify any secondary loss you may be experiencing as well as how to cope with secondary losses. 

The pain itself is too excruciating and feels so unbearable that gradually it gets associated with a variety of other emotional experiences like confusion, guilt, envy, loneliness, depression, and ultimately anger.

This snowball effect stems from the fact that the death of a spouse not only creates a single hole in one’s life but also impacts many other areas of life creating multiple losses apart from that primary loss.

Dealing with the death of a spouse can be overwhelming and can lead to other emotional barriers, stumbling blocks, and secondary losses.

This primary loss also manifests itself in other types of losses known as secondary losses that can have a lasting impact on the griever’s physical and social abilities.

Identifying secondary losses, our unique emotional and physical response to that loss during the grieving process will allow us to create an opportunity for healing in other hidden areas which we might not have considered.

Where possible, ensure that adequate covers are made for those losses whilst learning to move forward with life without our loved ones

Below is the table of content you can use to navigate any specific question you have in your mind:

Types of Losses

What Are the Types of Losses That Can Trigger Grief?

Grief can be defined as conflicting emotions caused by a sudden change in a familiar pattern of behavior. Everyone has a different idea about what grief should feel or look like.

Typically, people view death as a significant loss but there are many life events and changes that produce feelings of loss and trigger grief. 

The loss of physical ability, divorce or changes in a relationship, changes in your health or health of a loved one, loss of something routine in your life such as a job.

People grieve for many different reasons and have their unique way of grieving because individual grief is as unique as the person experiencing it. 

Sometimes trivial things can serve as grief triggers.

In 1967, physiatrist Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale that listed over 40 types of stressful losses that can trigger grief, illnesses, and other serious health issues.

Before getting into the list, we’d like to point out that not all the life events mentioned in the list can be regarded as losses that necessarily trigger grief.

Categories of Types of Losses that Can Trigger Grief

Grief is a reaction when you’ve lost something important to you. The loss could be the death of a loved one, losing a physical ability or cognitive ability, or financial loss. 

Loss occurs under different circumstances and can be categorised in different ways.

Necessary Loss

This loss isn’t necessarily a loss and is replaced by something better like leaving behind family and friends to pursue a new job.

Actual Loss

This loss is experienced when the person is no longer able to see, hear or touch the lost object or person e.g., spouse, relative, friend, pet, body part, or job.

Perceived Loss

This loss is only real to the person experiencing it and may seem obvious to others. E.g., when a child feels his parent loves his siblings more than him. He may lose his self-worth.

Maturation Loss

Loses we anticipate and experience as a part of the normal developmental process e.g., children leaving for university, retirement, etc.

Situational Loss

It occurs when a person experiences unpredictable and traumatic life events leading towards other loss e.g., Loss of body function or loss of a job.

Anticipatory Loss

It occurs when you know what you are going to lose and what your life is going to be like after that loss. e.g., a loved one diagnosed with a terminal disease

1: Necessary Loss

  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital reconciliation
  • Business readjustment
  • Major mortgage
  • Change in frequency of arguments
  • Change in residence
  • Change in schools
  • Minor violation of law
  • Change to a different line of work
  • Outstanding personal achievement
  • Change in responsibilities at work
  • Change in eating habits
  • Vacation
  • Christmas

2: Actual Loss

  • Death of Spouse
  • Death of a close family member
  • Death of a close friend

3: Perceived Loss

  • Sexual difficulties
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Trouble with boss
  • Minor mortgage or loan
  • Loss of Trust
  • Gain a new family member
  • Loss of Approval
  • Loss of Safety

4: Maturation Loss

  • Child leaving home
  • Begin or end school
  • Change in living conditions
  • Spouse starts or stops work
  • Retirement
  • Personal injury or illness
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Change in church activities
  • Change in social activities
  • Revision of personal habits
  • Change in working hours or conditions
  • Change in number of family reunions
  • Change in recreation

5: Situational Loss

  • Change in a financial state
  • Divorce
  • Marital Separation
  • Imprisonment
  • Loss of Control of my body
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan

6: Anticipatory Loss

  • Change in health of family member

What are the 40 Life Events that Can Trigger Losses?

The 40 major life events that can trigger loss can be grouped into six broad categories.

Primary Loss 

What is Primary Loss?

Primary loss is when you experience the death of your loved one or any other major life-changing event in your life and it’s followed by a series of mini-events that have a strong impact on your life.

Primary losses are obvious losses that are easy to recognize such as losing a spouse, job, or anything you hold dear. 

One primary loss can escalate to the multiple losses known as secondary losses that can affect multiple areas of an individual’s life.

Examples of Primary Loss

  • Death of a spouse
  • Disappearance
  • Murder-suicide
  • Miscarriage
  • Terror attack
  • War
  • The sudden death of a child
  • Physical loss
  • Cognitive loss
  • Loss of job
  • Relationship failure

Secondary Loss 

What is Secondary Loss?

Secondary loss is felt after the primary loss has occurred and refers to all smaller losses you’ll experience as a result of the primary loss you’ve suffered.

The grief from the second loss is the emotional response to the subsequent losses that occur as a result of primary loss.

Death of a spouse may lead to multiple secondary losses like the loss of identity, loss of a home, decrease in income, change in friend circle, change of job and revamping of future plans, etc.

Examples of Secondary Loss

The secondary losses can be a divide into three categories:


  • Loss of relational identity
  • Loss of ability to function
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of role as a caregiver / assuming new role as a caregiver
  • Loss of life purpose
  • Loss of dreams and goals
  • Loss of memories
  • Loss of faith
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of self-confidence and self worth
  • Loss of memories 
  • Loss at important milestones


  • Loss of activities with the deceased
  • Loss of support system
  • Loss of family structure
  • Loss of future dreams of growing old together
  • Loss of emotional sustenance
  • Loss of friends 
  • Loss of a sense of a shared life with another person 
  • Loss of friends 
  • Loss of relationships due to conflict of death 
  • Changes in the way you relate to friends 
  • Loss of community
  • Distance from people connected to the person who died


  • Income reduction
  • Loss of sense of safety
  • Loss of business
  • Loss of a home
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of financial security

What is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Losses?

The table below will help you to be able to understand the difference between a primary loss and a secondary loss.

Primary Loss

  • A primary loss is what you experience when someone important to you dies.

  • A primary loss incurred from the loss event itself.

  • The initial loss is often referred to as the primary loss.

  • Primary losses are easy to identify.

  • A primary loss appears all of sudden.

Secondary Loss

  • Secondary loss is an accumulation of all suffering as a result of that death.

  • secondary loss is incurred from the reaction to the loss event.

  • The losses that follow primary loss are referred to as secondary losses.

  • Secondary loss is hard to recognise and often regarded as “hidden loss”.

  • Secondary losses don’t appear until much later.

What Are Some Ways to Identify Secondary Losses?

The secondary losses are often so incredibly personal and difficult to identify that they often go unrecognized by family, friends, and community members and sometimes even by the person experiencing them.

Secondary losses constitute various types of losses at once and among other things may be related to ambiguous or disenfranchise losses.

Secondary Loss as Disenfranchised Loss

Disenfranchised Loss is felt when the grieving person doesn’t get the much-needed validation or support from others. Others don’t recognize how significant that loss was to that person.

There is another side of disenfranchised loss you experience when your loved one has an illness that causes a decline in their physical abilities causing them physically present but mentally absent.

Secondary Loss as Ambiguous Loss

An ambiguous loss refers to when the person has no idea about what has been lost and or whether the loss even occurred at all.

How to Identify Your Secondary Losses

What are the Typical questions to Ask Yourself to Identify Secondary Losses?

The secondary losses are the subsequent changes as a consequence of the death of a loved one and typically range from negligible and momentary to life-altering and permanent.

These losses may add to the pain, stress, and challenges of the grief that you’re going through. If this sounds relevant to you, consider making a visual map of your secondary loss.

Visual writing can be extremely effective to identify your emotions and validate the shape of your grief. Let’s take a look at some general questions you may want to consider in identifying your secondary losses.

The Nature of Bonding

Which relationships following the death of your loved one appears strained? Do you know why?

What were your expectations of them?

Have your friends been supportive and helpful, or has your experience been disappointing? In what ways?

What could be done to get your friends on board?

Your Emotional History

What kind of losses have you experienced in the past?

Have you completely overcome those losses?

If yes, what coping mechanism did you use to overcome those losses?

Financial Security

Are there financial security losses?

What has changed in your financial situation?

Under these conditions, how did your lifestyle change?

And what about your holidays, travels or special events?

Hope for the future, goals/dreams.

What are some of the hopes and aspirations that you know have changed?

In what ways has the death of your loved one changed the direction you thought your life was headed?

Has this situation influenced or questioned or changed your belief in God, your belief in life, or your belief in people?

What are some of the things you consider to be “unfinished” in your life due to the death of your loved one?

Roles and Responsibilities

What role(s) were played by your loved one in your life?

How has this situation affected your role in other circumstances?

What were the shared roles between you and your loved one?

In the Home:

Has the death of your loved one meant that the roles have changed?

Are there any tasks that you miss doing for your loved one?

Are there tasks and responsibilities that you have had to take on because of death?

How did your life change as a result of death?

What are the new roles you now have to take on? What are the roles you no longer need to play?

If you were their caregiver:

How has the loss of your loved one affected you as a caregiver in terms of your ability to operate as before?

If you have children, what are the fears and concerns you have about your children?

What are the fears and concerns that you children have expressed that needs to be addressed?

At work:

Has the death of your loved one affected your ability to work?

How much help or understanding have you had in the workplace?

Situational Stress

1. What are the most significant changes that occurred in your life since that primary loss?

2. Are you experiencing positive life events or negative life events?

3. How much stress do you feel in your daily life?

4. What are the challenges you’re facing as a part of a community?

5. What things are helping you get through the difficult time?

Loss of faith

How committed were you to your faith before the events that led to the death of your loved one?

What sort of questions has the death of your loved one brought to light about your faith?

Is there anyone you trust to be able to have these unfiltered conversations around the questions you have? if not why?

What types of help have you received from your faith circle to help you on your new faith journey? (apart from financial help if you received one)

Support Systems

How has “the system” worked for you? Do you feel let down by the system? If you do, could you expand on the reasons?

What community, organisation or resources have been helpful?

Who could you call to help you find out about the resources that may be available to help you?

How have you been treated by the health care system or medical resources?

What has been your experience with your GP, or with emergency or regular hospital care, home help, nursing care.

How were you treated by the funeral home?

What about assistance that should be available from government, community, church, social services or many other agencies?

Have you been pleased or disappointed by the way you have been treated, or the way “the system” has worked for you?

Some of the questions have been adapted with permission from Dr Bill Webster’s how to identify secondary losses article.

Which of these questions did you find most helpful? Answering these questions can be helpful to identify your secondary losses and make sense of what you’re feeling.


About your loved one, what did the person mean to you?

How has their death impacted your sense of identity?

What was so unique about your relationship with them?

 What are the lone moments when you miss your loved one the most? Is it a particular day, time of the week or month?

What were the things you used to do together? What are the things you’ve done that you wish you could do again?

What are the unique memories, opportunities and events that you miss the most?

Recommended reading:

 Is There a Connection Between Grief and Loss?

Grief can be explained as a crushing feeling caused by the death of a loved one. It includes feelings of vulnerability, abandonment, and realizing the unpredictability of life. 

It is often assumed that loss itself is a part of grief but hard to delineate at the beginning when emotions are at their peak. Later when emotions subside, the sense of loss manifests itself as a whole new level of bereavement.

What Is Cumulative Loss in Grief?

Cumulative grief occurs when an individual experiences numerous loss one after the other within a short time. For example, losing multiple family members or loved ones at the same time or in close succession would result in cumulative grief.

Another example is the loss of relational identity (no longer a husband, wife, parent, sibling, grandparent, etc) which could lead to loss of life purpose (no longer a parent, or caregiver, etc)

This type of grief can be extremely consuming because the person feels buried by the loss and doesn’t have the time to grieve one loss properly before experiencing the next.

Coping with Secondary Losses

How to Deal with Cumulative Loss in Grief?

Sometimes cumulative grief is recognizable and sometimes it’s not. Understanding the intensity of your grief can be the best way to acknowledge it and validate your experience.

Cumulative grief feels like you’re buried under the mountains of loss and there’s no way to get out of it. No matter how significant your loss is, you don’t have to be held captive by it forever.

By allowing yourself to mourn your loss, you can transform the suffering into compassion and wisdom.

If only there is a secret formula or magic button that I can give to help you instantly get out of your cumulative grief, but there is a process that can help you work through it.

Resolve the Past Losses First

Ask yourself, is there any loss from your past you’ve been intentionally avoiding for years. If so, it is probably impacting your ability to deal with current losses.

Stretch back to your timeline and determine the losses you have disregarded. Allow yourself to fully feel and grieve each of those past losses.

You may find it difficult, but it will help you walk through your feelings and find a better way to deal with new losses.

Find a Way to Express Yourself

You may find it difficult to open up about your feelings because when you have a lot of emotions to process it can be overwhelming to

face them.

But it always helps to have another person to talk about your feelings. Consider joining a support or counseling group to express yourself without hesitation.

Make Way for Joy and Sadness

The loss of losing a loved one such as a spouse is so big that the grief won’t just go away. But in those moments of sorrow, you have to make a room for some joy too.

It’s ok to miss your loved one, just honor your joy and sadness in grief anniversaries and you’ll feel that those memories you’ve shared together aren’t painful anymore.

Find Peace

Remind yourself that you’re not broken and there’s something beautiful waiting ahead of you. Visualize yourself no longer buried by the mountain of sadness.

I know your heartaches and you feel tired, but you can choose to heal and can move into peace.

How do you Cope with Secondary Losses?

Secondary losses require coping with the unexpected changes in your life as a result of primary loss.

Most people may not immediately recognize their secondary losses as they don’t show up all at once and slowly begin to impact your life in unanticipated ways. 

You’ll most often experience secondary losses as you go through the stages of grief while getting back to your normal life.

The suggested question “to ask yourself to identify secondary losses” is a great first step in learning about your secondary losses which will be followed by identifying the necessary actions or steps to help you cope.

The next steps may take the following shape:


Accepting your new reality is the first step you can take towards healing your grief. In the grief model, acceptance is the last step but for coping and working through the loss, it comes first in the healing process.

Loss Resolution

You have to accept that the loss is real, and the associated pain is a consequence of it. The healing process for secondary loss is not the same as initial loss.

Almost every grief therapy model overlooks the intensity of secondary losses and doesn’t give them importance in stages of grief.

Disbelief and Denial

The primary loss is always followed by a strong sense of disbelief that your loved one is really gone, and you won’t be able to see them ever again. Grief expert J. William Worden has introduced four important tasks to get out of this phase:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss.
  • Experiencing the pain of the loss.
  • Adjusting to new life.
  • Reinvestment in a new reality.

Intermediate Period of distress

After the death of your loved one, you’ll keep on getting invitations for couples’ activities or similar stuff. Many people would be confused about whether to invite you to their couple’s dinner or couple’s night outs or not. Don’t worry it may take some time to adjust.

Recompense and Reshuffle

The last stage includes the acceptance of your loved one’s death and reorganizing your new life. After having adequate time to grieve your loved one’s death, you can put closure behind you by indulging yourself in some grief rituals.

 Support Someone

How to Help Someone Dealing with Loss?

You may feel reluctant to intrude, saying something inappropriate, or making someone already dealing with a loss feel even worse. But don’t let discomfort prevent you from giving a helping hand to someone who is grieving and might really need your help.

Acknowledge and validate their feeling

The better you understand the grief and how it is healed, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one cope with the pain and gradually begin to heal.

Be quick to listen and slow to speak

Choose your words carefully while consoling the grieving person and express your concern. If you have nothing to say that can make them feel better, just staying quiet and listening to them is the best way to provide comfort.

Ask How They Feel within a specified period

The feelings of a grieving person change quickly so don’t assume how the person is feeling at a given time. Ask them how they’re feeling and let them know that it’s ok to share their feelings with you.

If you have a similar experience, share it with them to show empathy and make them feel they’re the not only ones who lost a loved one.

Be Present and Genuine

Don’t offer unsolicited advice trying to minimize their loss. Try to be genuine in your communication and express your real and honest emotions to comfort them.

Offer Support

Ask the grieving person if they need anything or is there anything, they need help with. Offer help with funeral arrangements or just offer your shoulder to cry on.

Recommended reading:

In Conclusion

In this article, we’ve discussed what other types of losses can be experienced by a person grieving the death of a loved one. We’ve categorised the losses in 40 major life events that can be grief triggers.

Moreover, we shared different ways to identify your secondary losses, validate the shape of your grief and initiate the healing process.

My goal is to help you understand the process of grieving, grief triggers, ways to overcome your grief with some proven and most effective ways to move forward with your life and to fill the void inside you.

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